Archive

Archive for March, 2008

YouTube’d memories: Hotel California

March 31st, 2008

When I answered the “favorite song” question in the Photobucket meme (see #9), I actually chose my number two song. I think it is called “the familiarity effect” in cognitive psychology – I listen to my CD compilation of favorite Beatles’ songs occasionally, while I don’t even have a CD compilation of favorite “assorted” songs. So, it’s been several years since I last heard Hotel California.

But it is undoubtedly my most-favorite English language song. I first heard it as a “bonus track” tacked onto the end of the cassette tape that introduced me to the Beatles (which must have been in ’85 or ’86), and both the guitar intro and the long riffs at the end sounded absolutely awesome.

The song felt as if it was some sort of anthem to a person with then-limited English vocabulary. A friend of mine turned up some nonsense that the term “Hotel California” referred to the American prison for political dissidents, which echoed the very popular шансон genre, and made the song sound even more appealing to all of us closet rebels… I eventually learned the words, and while it was impossible for me to interpret much beyond the clear indictment of decadence, it did not diminish my affection for the song.

I bought an Eagles CD years later, but weren’t much impressed with anything else they produced. In fact, I can only name one other song by the band. But I was pleased to learn that Hotel California is widely considered one of the best songs of all time.

 

 

Music

Aimless wanderer

March 30th, 2008
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The spring showed a bit of skin today, and I could only look out the window for so long before deciding that I’d better get up and go out.

One of the first thoughts was a round of golf, but my last round in December managed to dampen my enthusiasm for the activity. Instead, I printed myself a few suggested walking routes from a tourbook and went to the central London.

Hotel Russell, BloomsburyThe routes took me to heretofore unexplored parts of Bloomsbury and Holborn, with many architectural stunners and several pleasant squares. Some streets I had entirely to myself, while motorized traffic was largely non-existent. I lingered in the sun here and there, reading a magazine or watching infrequent passerby, and managed to kill almost four hours doing practically nothing. It could have been even longer, but many places on my circuit that I thought of checking out are closed on Sunday.

I always say that sightseeing in solitude is a boring exercise, because you need an ability for spontaneous emotion-sharing to make it truly rewarding. But when the weather is nice, aimlessly wandering unfamiliar streets could be quite fulfilling, not mentioning the huge upgrade over sitting home alone in front of a PC…

Chronicles, London & Environs

Riding lessons

March 30th, 2008
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Besides giving everybody a chance to see my girls enjoy an exotic – for us – pursuit, I also aimed at illustrating the quick-changing weather with this clip. Alas, compressed diminished quality of the video made that less discernible. Just smile at the sight of the girls ahorse, then…

 

 

P.S. I know I should not be, but I am slightly disappointed with my first attempt of posting a video on YouTube. A half-gig DVD-quality .AVI file took ages to upload, but I specifically went with that because I expected YouTube’s internal compression to degrade quality. Yet, it turned out worse than I expected. I should try something like mpeg4 next time to see how it compares… Also, YouTube required me to come up with “tags”, and then suggested some stupid “related” videos based on that. I guess, the Volga Boatmen Song is always perfectly related ;)

Children, Family Videos

I’ve been caught

March 29th, 2008
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I could only be stealthy for so long. A speed camera finally caught me in the act.

As far as I can tell, I ran afoul of one of the weirdest of the speed limits. In a “built-up urban” area, the national limit is 30 mph, unless posted otherwise. And when it is not posted otherwise? The only thing that indicates this limit is the presence of lamp-posts – you will never find explicit signage.

So, apparently, on our way out of Wales, on a road that I would not deem urban, my brain did not register the lamp-posts. And now, I have received an official letter, advising me that the driver of my car “is alleged” to had driven at the speed of 41 mph in a 30-mile zone. “This allegation is supported by photographic and/or video evidence”, solemnly states the letter.

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That's England

Lonesome again

March 28th, 2008
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Well, here I am, with only a computer for company, four full weekend days ahead unencumbered with any plans whatsoever, and an unappetizing concept of surviving for a while on my own once again.

On a bright side, I should shed a dozen pounds, having no one to lovingly feed me.

Yes, the family is on the plane to New Jersey, and I stayed behind on the premise of saving my vacation days for the summer. Those of you who enjoy my writings, rejoice at not having to endure another holiday interruption. Those of you who would rather see me in flesh, I hope you understand.

We narrowly made that plane, by the way. Not willing to risk driving through central London on a Friday afternoon, we chose the longer route to Heathrow via the Orbital road. And, as everybody probably knows, being stuck on a highway is considerably worse than being stuck on city streets – you have no side roads to try… A 62-mile trek that takes around an hour under normal conditions, took over two hours, eating up whatever “let’s-get-there-earlier” buffer we built into the schedule. Thankfully, when it looked like the traffic stopped almost altogether with 7 miles to go, we found ourselves near an exit that provided an alternative route via reasonably fast roads…

So, anyway, I’m thinking up a list of computer-oriented chores that should take me through the next 10 days. That includes writing up formal travel notes on Wales, but not yet putting up a Wales photo album. Our resident master of re-touching arts did not have enough time to finish the entire batch, so it will have to wait until her return. That person is coincidentally and undeniably my resident muse as well, so if the quality of my writing suffers, you know who to blame…

Chronicles

Music of My Life

March 27th, 2008

Warning: Despite English narration, majority of the clips used in this post are in Russian. Three other European languages, besides English, are also present. I hope my English-language audience will still enjoy the music.

My kid brother did me one better and created a meme of his own. While he did not explicitly state the rules, they are fairly simple:

  1. Think back to what music was your favorite at every 5-year interval of your life,
  2. Illustrate with YouTube clips.

I could not let such a nice idea go stale, so what follows is my own excursion into how my music tastes evolved.

Before we get into specifics, I should posit, that unlike Kisintin’s, my musical affinities have not really changed much over the years. Surely, I went through periods of liking specific genres and performers, which subsequently faded away from my playlists, but I largely like the same type of music today that I liked fifteen years ago.

Also, many of my favorites became such non-contemporaneously. My favorite rock group disbanded before I was born, and several of my favorite performers passed away before I was old enough to appreciate their art. In many cases, I became fond of musical acts years after their original releases. What can I say? When it comes to music, my tastes are often retro

Enough of idle babbling. Ready?

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Music

Selling IT to schoolchildren

March 26th, 2008

A colleague from work and I volunteered to participate in a local educational workshop program for high school children. The theme of the program was promoting the notion of the Diploma in IT, and our task was to come up with an engaging way of illustrating the importance of IT skills in our particular line of work.

Riiiight! How exactly do you engage a bunch of 14-year-olds in a discussion about software development in investment banking industry?

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Chronicles

Back from Wales

March 25th, 2008

This has not been the most exciting of trips, for two main reasons. First, it was mighty cold and, unlike in London, where not a single snowflake has graced us with its presence this winter, we had nothing less than intermittent hail following us through the northern part of Wales. Second, – and probably more important! – Wales is a great place for tourists in search of outdoors; it enables in great abundance hiking, trekking, climbing, rafting and all other kinds of nature-related pursuits. For those more interested in man-made wonders, such as yours truly, Welsh offerings are somewhat less spectacular.

 

The Smallest House in Britain, Conwy, Wales

 

Which is not to say that you can’t find interesting things to do in Wales if you are primarily interested in history and architecture – and, after all, we can occasionally enjoy nature ourselves.

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Photography, Travel

YouTube’d memories: A Matter of Trust

March 20th, 2008

This song was my introduction to Billy Joel, whose groundbreaking USSR tour in 1987 paved the road for many other Western acts. By the whim of some Soviet culture ministry functionary – or was it a random selection? – A Matter Of Trust has gotten the lion’s share of exposure on Soviet TV, and remained one of my all-time favorites since.

Unfortunately, I realize that this is one of those videos for which “Embedding is disabled by request”, which is YouTube’s way to pacify militant copyright-protecting recording companies. So you’ll have to click on the link and go to YouTube to watch it. Sorry.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Xx53c_6h-W4

With that, we are off for a tour of Wales. Back soon.

Cheerio!

Music

Remember to drive on the left

March 19th, 2008

In one of my very first posts, I noted that adjusting to driving on the left side of the road is not that hard. I am sure anyone who ever rented a car in England would agree. You need some initial buffer time to get used to it, but paying close heed to omnipresent white arrows on blue background and following cars in front of you is all you need. Turning into a road empty of traffic will occasionally trip you, but not for long.

Furthermore, switching to driving on the right, when you go to the continent, and then again to driving on the left, when you return, is a transparent subconscious transition, once you know well how to do both (cursory to that, since most of my continental driving is done in my own car, I drive there on the right behind a right-hand steering wheel, and do not notice much difference either).

But occasionally, your subconscious plays a trick with you.

You can park your car facing either way in England, and when I occasionally drop Kimmy off at school, I cross the road to park on the opposite side without turning around. When I pull out later, my first maneuver is a u-turn. The other day, there were no cars parked opposite of me when I returned to the car, so I was able to do a majestic forward-only 180° turn. There were no cars moving on the road either until a few hundred meters into driving, when I saw a van coming directly at me and flashing its headlights.

Yes, I was driving on the right. Without a reference normally provided by moving cars, and deceived by having had the car parked against the direction of the traffic, my brain decided to kick into the right-side auto-pilot mode…

The combined speed of the two vehicles was low enough to allow me to realize my mistake, gracefully move to the left and even apologetically wave to the driver of the van. I have no doubt that he still aimed his entire reservoir of insults at me as we were passing each other…

That's England

Twirl this hoop

March 18th, 2008
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3G Massage HoopThe athletic fever amongst the parents in our family has shifted. While the girls continue their pursuits in skating, swimming and trampolining, I have all but stopped going to the gym. Sad, but true.

Natasha, in the meantime, has picked up a new type of exercise to keep in shape. It is called the 3G Massage Hoop and, as you should be able to see in the picture, it is a large hula hoop with 64 “accu-pressure probes” positioned along its circumference on the inside. As you twirl the hoop, your midsection supposedly gets additional benefits from the massaging lumps of plastic.

At first, they also gave Natasha bruises all over her waist; of the kind that would lend an airtight credibility to any claim of suffering abuse. In a few days, the bruising subsided, and the absence of fresh marks is a testament to at least some effect of this hoop.

Natasha does twirl it for lengthy periods of time every day. The actual slimming effects remain to be discerned.

Not that she truly needed it, of course!

Chronicles

Obama is growing on me

March 18th, 2008

I can’t say that I’m a convert, but I can clearly see why Obama is an appealing candidate. Read his speech and I dare you to tell me that a picture of a thoughtful, moral and remarkably sincere human being has not formed in your head. Eloquent and moving too – but that’s a long-accepted given.

The man has all the qualities of an inspirational leader. I can’t help but think that giving him a chance to heal what the present so-called leader of the free world wrought is worth putting up with some less than agreeable populism…

Re: Current Events

Spammers get creative

March 17th, 2008

I get my share of spam comment and trackback attempts, which are not at all visible to my faithful reader. Of the number of ways to prevent spam content from appearing on the website, I use “moderation”, which, for non-initiated, simply means that every comment submission goes through my explicit approval. Not the customer-friendliest approach, I’ll give you that, but it’s the most fool-proof one for extinguishing spam before it gets to the blog pages.

Amongst the various junk that gets submitted, porn, erectile disorder drugs and gambling are the most frequent topics, but there are occasional “attacks” centered on other subjects, such as insurance or pirated software. They invariably contain links to the vending sites and occasionally endeavor to make me more receptive to their causes by starting with an empty compliment of “Great site!” or “Very useful information” variety.

But a few days ago, I got a rather inventive one. It went:

Hello webmaster – I’m not exactly sure what this has to do with Kitchen Table Linens (that’s what I was searching on MSN when I saw a link here), but I’m glad I got a chance to read your blog. Thanks!!

Granted, this was transparently the same blatant faceless flattery that the less imaginative spammers use. It did, however, prompt me to try plugging the search terms into several search engines to see for myself whether my site would come up (as Brian notes monthly, there are some weirdest searches that may lead people to a blog). And tell you what: I was ready to check out the spammer’s website had the search turned up my site even on the 15th page of the results.

Alas, I couldn’t find myself. The comment was axed.

Blogging

YouTube’d memories: The Final Countdown

March 16th, 2008

Here is one of the less obscure favorites from my youth, which even reached #8 on the US charts in 1986. Having never been a fan of the “harder” rock genre, the entire attraction of this song to me is in the opening sequence. It has always sounded… stirring, I guess.

I can recall one other song by Europe, but otherwise it was a one-hit wonder to me.

 

Music

Sleepovers and food markets

March 15th, 2008
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A quick check of my posts for the last few months reveals that the chronicles of our daily doings have been lately limited to weekend happenstance. I can’t say that I am surprised by that. Sitting here thinking about things to write about, I am quite perplexed to pick something that does not qualify as “mundane”. It’s work, school, house chores, repeat Monday through Friday, for the four of us.

During weekends, though, we still manage to have some fun, even when we are not traveling to destinations old and new.

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Chronicles, London & Environs

Movie review: Stardust

March 14th, 2008

 

Stardust

 
   As an admitted fan of fantasy, I was very much looking forward to finally seeing Stardust. It did not disappoint. Engaging plot, a universe populated by well-developed characters, a healthy sprinkling of magic – it all comes together to serve as a wonderful stage to explore The Big Idea. Which happens to be not about an affirmation of some philosophical credo or a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, – make no mistake, the good does prevail! – but a simple lovely truth.

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Movies

Simple taxes made harder

March 13th, 2008
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If your income consists of solely salary and wages, then filing a tax return in England is a very simple self-assessment process. Online or on paper, you literally need to provide just a handful of numbers from your W-2 equivalent (called P60), tick off a bunch of boxes, sign, and voilà, you’re done.

It does get slightly more complicated if you have taxable interest earnings or capital gains (in the case of a non-ordinary non-domiciled alien who keeps all accounts offshore, those gains are non-taxable unless they are “remitted” onshore). More work comes with figuring out what you can exclude from your salary income based on having spent workdays abroad, if you are a non-dom, but in general, filing the return is a fairly quick and straightforward process.

Accounting firms inexplicably charge hundreds of pounds for the privilege of doing your UK taxes. Professional accounting help – for at least the first year, sometimes longer, – is a never-disputed component of any relocation package. Both of the facts above leave me scratching my head in confusion after my own first experience with UK returns.
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Chronicles, Expat Topic

Photobucket meme

March 13th, 2008
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A fun meme that I ganked from SamuraiFrog (as always, Jason was ahead of me in terms of ganking).

1. Go to photobucket.com
2. Type in your answer for each question into the PhotoBucket search bar.
3. Choose your favorite photo to represent your answer.
4. Copy the html and paste it here.
5. Answer only in picture form.

Let’s see.

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Burlaki

Phones restored

March 12th, 2008
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In case you were wondering, the agency that manages our house insisted on fixing the phone cabling problem described in this post. The technician showed up, confirmed that some wiring was torn apart, fixed it in under ninety seconds and wrote up a report that will allow the agency to reclaim the cost of his visit from the door installation company. We are not paying a penny.

Something to be said about having a conscientious landlord (or, at least, his agents).

Chronicles

Road tax will go up

March 12th, 2008
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Continuing with the threads of road tax, environment and a fight for lower emissions, the newly produced UK government Budget calls for an increase of that tax for the most-polluting vehicles to £425 a year. (among the sources, try this one)

The increase will be put in place in April of 2009, which is after my next road tax due date, but most importantly, after our planned repatriation, so we are likely to escape the extra cost.

I drive a BMW, which are not known for their “greenery”. Disengaging from the discussion on whether me and other “gas-guzzling” drivers deserve to pay more for contributing more than our share to the pollution, the proposed tax amount is just mind-boggling!

Emission levels may have just become the most important characteristic for selecting which car to buy in England.

That's England